Deaf preschooler Hunter Spanjer wins right to sign name after school says violates weapons policy

Nadine Kalinauskas
Good News Writer
Daily Brew

Hunter Spanjer, 3, is deaf.

When he signs his name, he makes a gesture that is in violation of Grand Island, Nebraska's "Weapons in Schools" policy, school officials claim, as his hands appear to mimic a gun.

In a case of a no-tolerance policy gone too far, the school asked him to change the way he signs his name.

"Anybody that I have talked to thinks this is absolutely ridiculous. This is not threatening in any way," Hunter's grandmother, Janet Logue, told KOLN last week.

Brian Spanjer, Hunter's father, insists the sign is registered through SEE (Signing Exact English) and that the gesture has been modified with crossed fingers to show that the name is uniquely Hunter's.

"We are working with the parents to come to the best solution we can for the child," school board spokesman Jack Sheard said in response to the controversy.

Hunter's parents weren't interested in a compromise, and were determined to fight for their son's right to sign his name.

The Facebook group titled "Let this Deaf Child Keep His Name Sign" quickly grew to over 9,000 members in support of little Hunter. A recent status update indicated that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had been contacted about the case.

Howard Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, told the Huffington Post that his organization would assist the Spanjers with legal action if necessary. "A name sign is the equivalent of a person's name, and to prohibit a name sign is to prohibit a person's name," he wrote in an email.

Grand Island Public Schools (GIPS) was inundated with angry phone calls and emails from both concerned community residents and strangers across the country.

The Spanjers won their fight.

"Grand Island Public Schools is not requiring any current student with a hearing impairment to change his or her sign language name," a statement released from the school board on Tuesday said.

The statement also included the following, making it clear that the district teaches American Sign Language (ASL), not Signing Exact English (SEE) which Hunter uses when signing his name:

"The school district teaches American Sign Language ("ASL") for students with hearing impairments. ASL is recommended by the Nebraska Department of Education and is widely used in the United States. The sign language techniques taught in the school district are consistent with the standards of the Nebraska Department of Education and ASL."

At least Hunter can keep his name.

"The encouragement and support is amazing," Brian told KOLN. "It's been more than I could have asked for and it's been extremely helpful."

The ACLU is still involved in the case.

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